How KC Chiefs defense is giving its offense time to figure things out

Whatever the reason, the Chiefs offense still feels very much like a work in progress.
Kansas City Chiefs v Minnesota Vikings
Kansas City Chiefs v Minnesota Vikings / Stephen Maturen/GettyImages

The Kansas City Chiefs won another close (and sometimes frustrating) game on Sunday when they beat the Minnesota Vikings 27-20. It's hard to complain about a team that is one of only five teams in all the NFL to have four wins at this point. The problem is that outside of the beating that they put on the Chicago Bears, the Chiefs haven't looked particularly good in their other three wins.

Those three wins all came on the road (at the Jacksonville Jaguars, New York Jets, and Minnesota Vikings), and the Chiefs offense couldn't really find a rhythm vs any of those teams despite their combined 6-9 record. It's something that Chiefs fans aren't accustomed to seeing during the Patrick Mahomes era. While K.C. has had its fair share of rough games, fans can typically rely on a Mahomes-led offense to provide some fireworks along the way and that just hasn't been the case this season.

The Chiefs are still averaging 25.6 points per game and there are plenty of NFL teams that would love to be at that number, but anyone that has watched the Chiefs during the Andy Reid/Patrick Mahomes era knows that this season just hasn't been the same. Actually, it's a little reminiscent of the 2021 season when defenses frustrated Mahomes with two high safeties and started taking away the deep ball. The Chiefs revamped things in 2022 and won a Super Bowl (without Tyreek Hill) thanks to the new offense that spread the ball around to multiple receivers (and Travis Kelce).

Maybe defenses have adjusted again. Maybe Patrick Mahomes is just human and has been in a bit of a slump. Maybe Mahomes is more banged up than he's letting on and it's effecting his play. Maybe this wide receiver group is just not getting the job done as well as last season and Mahomes doesn't feel like he has anywhere to go with the ball. Whatever the reason, the Chiefs offense still feels very much like a work in progress. Despite that, the Chiefs are 4-1 and tied for the best record in the AFC thanks in large part to a great start by their defense.

During the Steve Spagnuolo era in Kansas City the Chiefs defense has traditionally gotten off to a slow start and gradually picked up steam as the playoffs get near. This year they have allowed just 16 points per game through five games. Going into the Sunday night game that was tied for the sixth fewest points per game allowed in the NFL. Their 301.4 yards per game allowed was the ninth fewest.

Any way you want to look at it, the Chiefs defense has been a top ten unit through five games this season. The pass rush is still a work in progress at the moment, but the run defense has been solid, the tackling is the best its been in years, the overall defensive speed is the best its been in years, and the young secondary looks like one of the best units in football.

I'm not saying this unit is up there with the 1985 Chicago Bears or the 2000 Baltimore Ravens, but I think you can make a strong argument that the Chiefs defense has been better than their offense through five games. If that hadn't been the case and the defense had struggled early on then the Chiefs could easily be 1-4 right now.

The scary thing to consider for the rest of the league is what if this Chiefs defense improves throughout the season like Spagnuolo's defenses typically do? The Chiefs are set to get Charles Omenihu back soon and his pressence could help the Chiefs pass rush and make this unit even tougher. They've also been without Nick Bolton for the last couple of games. Even if this unit just gets Omenihu and Bolton back on the field and everyone else stays playing at the level they currently are this unit will be a borderline top five defense.

This strong defensive play allows the offense to not have to panic that they aren't firing on all cylinders yet. However, the offense does need to get things cleaned up. Isiah Pacheco has been great in the run game, but they need to stop wasting snaps on giving Clyde Edwards-Helaire the ball. The short yardage rushing game is especially frustrating and Andy Reid needs to either just pass the ball in those situations or be willing to run a quarterback sneak.

The biggest thing for the offense is that they have to find some consistency in the passing game. While people liked to take shots at Justin Watson, he's actually been fine. It's the production of Marquez Valdes-Scantling and Skyy Moore that has been abysmal. Despite consistently being among KC's leaders in routes run, the two have combined for just 16 catches and 239 yards through five games. That's a combined average of just 3.2 catches and 47.8 yards per game. The two of them combined can't even muster the stats of a decent number two receiver.

You can use the excuse that MVS and Moore know the offense best and that's why they play more, but its clear Patrick Mahomes doesn't trust them because he simply isn't targeting them. He's actually targeting the guys that have played significantly less snaps at a much higher rate. While Kadarius Toney, Rashee Rice, and Justyn Ross's combined 34 receptions, 290 yards, and 2 touchdowns through five games isn't a lot, the fact that they've out-targeted and out produced MVS and Moore on significantly less snaps shows that Mahomes trusts them enough to target them over MVS and Moore when they're all on the field. If that's the case then Andy Reid has to get them on the field more ASAP.

Kadarius Toney seems to be right up their with Travis Kelce in terms of getting Mahomes' first look when he's on the field. Rashee Rice has battled some drops, but continues to make plays with the ball in his hands whenever he's on the field. Justyn Ross hasn't seen many snaps at all, but made a fantastic catch on Sunday and looks like a player that could help KC if they continue to get him more involved. These three need to be the focus at wide receiver (with some Justin Watson mixed in) if KC wants to get the offense going. MVS and Skyy aren't cutting it and they can't continue to hope for 34-year old Travis Kelce to save the day.

The Chiefs are 4-1. They did enough to win again this week against the Vikings. With the Bengals early season issues and recent key injuries to the Buffalo Bills defense, the Chiefs are absolutely still one of the favorites in the AFC despite their early season issues on offense. The improved early season performance by the defense has now helped them win four straight games and is buying them some time to figure things out on offense, but if they want to hoist another Lombardi Trophy in February they're going to need to find the offensive magic that we've come to know and love over the past five years. If they do that and this defense keeps playing well (or even improves) the NFL should be very concerned.